Here Thar Be Monsters!

From the other side of the argument to the other side of the planet, read in over 149 countries and 17 languages. We bring you news and opinion with an IndoTex® flavor. Be sure to check out Radio Far Side. Send thoughts and comments to luap.jkt at gmail, and tell all your friends. Sampai jumpa, y'all.

6.12.10

Bits And Pieces

If you're a new reader, then Bits And Pieces are occasional articles where I just list some random observations that haven't yet become full-length stories. Generally, they are notes about life in Indonesia, which, believe me, is a trip in itself. Here goes, in no particular order...

Indonesians aren't big pet people. In a country where most people over 30 didn't own a pair of shoes until they were adults, having extra mouths to feed is just plain luxury. The most common pets I have encountered are turtles, I assume because they are quiet, don't poop a lot and don't eat a lot.

Cats are pretty popular, as far as that goes. Cats are mostly semi-wild, though, and wander the streets keeping an eye on the rat population. I was adopted by a kitten that was born on my porch. She's less than a year old and already in the family way herself. I do know a handful of people that keep pedigree cats, but they are not like house pets. Instead, they are kept in cages like birds or conversation pieces.

Strangely, about 80% of all cats in Indonesia have malformed tails. At first, I thought it was some kind of purposeful modification, like Doberman Pinsers, or a weird delicacy like cat tail soup. Tuns out it's just a peculiar defect, since I imagine the population of the islands is pretty isolated and inbred.

Dogs are almost unheard of, since Muslims concider them haram, or unclean, especially the saliva. Most of the dogs I know are not pets but food. A number of groups, including the Batak, Manadonese, Koreans, and Chinese, consider dog a delicacy. Having tried it, I must say that it's not bad, though I found it a bit chewy and bony for my taste. However, it is usually prepared very spicy, and that part I liked quite well.

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Indonesian culture views the liver, hati, in the same way Westerners view the heart. Where we use expressions like 'heart-to=heart,' 'have a heart,' 'the heart of the matter,' and so forth, Indonesians say things like, hati-hati for take care or be careful, di dalam hati, which literally means 'inside the liver,' but means the same as 'say to one's self.' Perhatian means 'attention,' and memperhatikan is the verb 'to take notice of' or 'be aware of.' Iri hati (jealous liver) is to covet, while berhati buruk (worn-out liver) is to be evil-minded.

There are literally dozens of expressions that refer various emotions directly back to the liver. What makes in interesting comparason is how Westerners view the liver. It is usually considered the seat of vile emotions and anger. We use expressions like, lily-livered, bile and gall, as well as calling someone 'yellow' or jaundiced when they are cowardly.

This language stuff gives me hours of entertainment...

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One thing that will absolutely panic an Indonesian is getting rain on the tops of their heads. If caught in a downpour without an unbrella, they will take any object to hand to cover the very top of their heads. In the same way Western mothers warn about wet feet, having rain fall on the top of your head makes you pusing, or dizzy/light-headed. It doesn't matter if it is a Biblical flood or the barest of drizzles, one must cover the top of the head.

No explanation why, when the average Indonesian takes two to three showers a day, it doesn't have the same effect as rainwater.

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Another common malady here is masuk angin, or 'wind enters.' There is a multi-million dollar industry built up over this one thing. It is blamed for any number of problems, such as stiff muscles, chills, headaches, colds, indigestion, and any of a dozen other common complaints.

One of the most entertaining events to the foreigner is watching masuk angin being treated. It usually begins with a massage, primarily around the neck and shoulders, using eucalyptus oil, or hayu putih (white wood). During this process, both parties sound like mating frogs, belching and farting with abandon.

This massage is followed by gerukan, or scratching. This is done with an object, traditionally a kind of sea sheel, but more commonly now with a coin. The edge is used to repeatedly scratch lines acros the back until they turn dark red. The color signifies that the 'wind' is being released, the darker the better. One must take care to do this right, or the wind will re-enter and the situation will be worse than before.

You can always tell when someone has been thusly treated: they reek like a eucalyptus forest and look like they've been flogged.

There is also a great many products, usually drunk, that reputedly cure masuk angin. There's Tolak Angin, or 'wind away,' which is a rather foul tea. There's Antangin, which is a more scientific formulation with menthol and other herbs in an orange-flavored matrix. There are various jamu, or traditional home remedies.

Nevertheless, there's a million dollar idea waiting to be had here. The person who comes up with a sure-fire prevention for wind will spend his or her life in the lap of luxury.

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There are many oxymorons in the Indonesian language, things like high-speed internet, air quality and fresh water. But one that is NOT on this list, at least here, is jumbo shrimp.

I was absolutely floored the first time I saw what they commonly call prawns. These suckers are the biggest damn shrimp I have ever seen! Some examples I have personally eaten would put a Maine lobster to shame.

These suckers are green and an average specimen can weigh in at about a pound EACH. I mean, imagine a meal in which there is only one shrimp on your plate, and it's enough! They look just like your average Gulf white shrimp, but using a magnifying glass.

I'm not talking about Thai tiger shrimp that are becoming popular in the States. Those are respectable, to be sure, at 5-10/pound. But these boogers got 'em beat! Using the common scale back home (10-15, 15-20, etc.), these would be labelled 1-2. They are delicious, and if you're a shrimp lover, then this is Nirvana, to be sure.

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Well, that's it for now. All this talk of shrimp makes me want to run up to the market and get one. I invite readers to send in questions or comments about anything they read here. I've gotten some fascinating email, and I always anwer, even if I'm a little slow sometimes. If there's a topic you'd like to know more about, just let me know and I'll gladly bang out a future column on the topic.

Thanks for tuning in and sampai jumpa!

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